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Posts Tagged ‘university’

 

I love the bowls of candy present during the holidays.

I love the bowls of candy present during the holidays.

Earlier this week new set of bulletin boards appeared near the physics study room at UCSB (where I happen to spend a lot of time). One of these is dedicated to research opportunities to help undergraduates find professors to work for. Since I did not have such an easy conglomeration of information I had to find out the hard (well harder) way.

So you want to get involved in undergraduate research? The two main types of research (for sciences at least) are working for a professor at your university and summer internships (Research Experience for Undergraduates: REU’s).

It is easier to get work at your own university since there is no application process involved, there tends to be no or little pay as well. To find a position at your university it is best to think of what you want to do. The internet is one of the best tools here. Start by going to the department website and find the section for research. Usually the websites are divided into academics, research and maybe outreach. Once in the research sections look at everything available and make not of what interests you.

Based on the list of interesting items find three to four professors with interesting sounding research and maybe a good website. If a website is not listed for the professor try googling their name to find it, oftentimes it is not listed on the departments website or it could be under another departments. Read what they have on their websites and maybe a recent publication to become familiar with the type of research they are doing. This exercise will also help you decide what you actually find interesting, if reading the websites and papers (at least the website) is boring try looking at other types of research.

Once you find three or four professors with interesting research go talk to them. If you have a class with one of them ask them about their research after class or during their office hours. If you have never had a class with them see about finding when their office hours are and go visit them then. You want to do a bit of research on their research first so you can ask relevant questions and show that you are serious about doing research. If you have never met them before or do not feel comfortable showing up randomly e-mail them. Here is an example of such an e-mail, most is specific to my circumstances but it gives a general (I sent it in June) :

Dear Professor [Name],

As you know, in order to secure a graduate school position as a physics student I need hands on research experience. While I was studying abroad in Edinburgh last year I applied to many summer research positions including NSF REUs such as University of Washington and Caltech, as well as NASA’s summer research program. Unfortunately there were not enough research opportunities for me to get one.

Since the research is necessary for me to continue my career in physics I am asking if you have research opportunities in your lab starting this Fall quarter.

I understand that you are currently working on [research].

My field of interest is currently [similar and related interests to what they are doing, that is why you are asking them].

However, I would be happy to take advantage of any opportunity you may have. If there are no positions currently available in your lab, are you aware of any other opening available for me.

I would like to talk with you about any research opportunities in your lab, or any advice you may have.

I am looking forward to hearing from you, I will contact you for follow up in the first week in August.

Sincerely,

Michael Hutchins

[Contact Info]

That should give some ideas as what too write if you need any.

Aside from getting research opportunities at your home universities there are also REU programs and other internships such as NASA USRP. These are eight to ten week paid programs where you learn to do research under a professor and occasionally get published. The applications tend to be due in December or January depending on the program. Most are highly competitive so do not be discouraged if you do not get in (I didn’t  make it in one). As I have not done one I do not really know what they are about but they look really nice. Especially the part where you get paid.

I should also mention that working for a professor at your home University can either be for units/credits or pay. Sometimes both if you get a stipend and a research grant. Though it only works out to be about ¢70 an hour.

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Geometry can be found in many places.

Geometry can be found in many places.

Talking with Freshman about how school is going leads often to several topics: transferring, study abroad and research.

A lot of students, not just freshman, have a desire to transfer away to another college. Sometimes there is a legitimate excuse involving degrees or available courses, often it is for reasons that should not cause a transfer.

Most of the time it is homesickness. For the first time people are living away from home and the distance is hard to accept. They want to transfer to a closer school and the closer school tends to be one not as good as the current school (UC to CSU). This is a bad idea. Part of college is the growing experience of living on ones own away from the immediate support of family. It is one of the only ways to gradually break free of dependance and learn how to be ones own person.

Those that get homesick also go home many weekends during the quarter. This only makes the problem worse. Going home during the quarter (like every weekend) undermines the independence built during the weeks. Sometimes though the family will not let the student go and come to visit or demand that they come home through guilt or other nefarious means (pie would be one of them).

The solution is the next topic I push on Freshman: Study Abroad. It is not just a great idea it should be mandatory. Getting outside of the normal and into a new culture is a life changing experience. It doubles as a great way to force the separation between dependance on family and the student. It is not an easy thing to do, it is hard at times but living abroad really builds a persons confidence in themselves. I found it helpful to also define who I am as a person and what I want to do with my life (turns out it was more school).

Besides, the friends met while studying abroad will be friends for a lot longer then those casually made through classes. I guess another encouraging points is that the drinking age is a lot lower abroad, so is the exchange rate a the moment (not when I went).

Often the excuse is that it is hard to do with their major. I just want to say that I did it as a physics major and I will be graduating on time within four years.

Lastly there is research. Many people do not take advantage of one of the best opportunities offered at Universities which is working for a professor. Any major can do it. I had a friend working for a political science professor looking up articles, summarizing them, contacting others in the field for information and generally loving it. It is easy to find something to do in the hard sciences, it is almost expected. Soft sciences could be trickier but if you are persistent it is possible. Liberal arts may be more difficult to find work for but I know it is possible, I have a friends doing research in the linguistics department.

Many people do not think they are qualified to do research. This type of thinking will always prevent a research job from opening up. If a professor asks if you can do something never say no, say that you will learn fast. Most of the time the research position is so that you learn how to do research not performing actual research (at first anyway). It also looks great when applying to graduate school or related fields.

Later I will write on the best way to find a research position as it may seem a daunting task. The key point to remember is that a professor can only say no. They will not go around to other professors or schools talking about this person who dared to ask them for a research position. They do not have that kind of time.

In short: you get over homesickness, study abroad at least for a summer or a quarter (a year is way better) and get a research position as soon as possible.

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Holidays revolve around food.

Holidays revolve around food.

Returning home after several months at college is such a strange experience. Especially Thanksgiving. It is a three day taste of home before returning to not only the intensity of school but dead and finals weeks as well. After the two hardest weeks of the quarter the journey home begins again. This is probably not as strange for those who live close enough to home to return on weekends, for those of us who chose to be a good distance away home is a place only visited for Thanksgiving, Christmas break, Spring Break and Summer. Aside from those four time periods home is our rooms at school.

The transition may seem radical: a college dorm or apartment to a house you grew up in. The norms and habits are so very different. Except childhood muscle memory always kicks in. Chores that were done growing up become standard once again, eating with the family something to look forward too, even the hours awake change back to those growing up. At school getting tired at around midnight seems slightly odd while not being in bed by midnight is strange at home. 

The strangest part is the subtle changes. Fixtures around the house change, door handles are replaced, curtains disappear and occasionally a wall changes color. Pets grow slightly or become better behaved (that is actually a rare occurrence). Seasons are weird also. Santa Barbara has no seasons aside form Sun and Rain while going home thrusts me into the normal (for me growing up) cycle of the seasons. I went from a slightly rainy Santa Barbara to the winter of my youth. The clouds, the temperature and the smells bring back the middle of winter. Oddly I miss real winter when I am in Santa Barbara. 

There is also the slow encroachment of space. Some of my friends have completely lost their rooms to siblings or parents. In my case my room is rapidly turning into a second office and a guest room, me as the guest. I mean my posters and books and stuff are all there, but ever slowly more filing boxes appear and a few more shelves are requisitions for business use.

An inability to do work arises as well. Over the summer I spent my time at home luxuriating in the lack of work that I needed to do. I read, I played video games and I took naps in the sun. Now when I return home with piles of work to do I cannot muster the motivation to do any of it. While at school I can easily work twelve hours straight I can barely do a hour of work without drifting off or finding a snack. Part of it is that I never had a dedicated work space growing up since I never had much homework in high school.

People change. It is not that bad now that I am a fourth year, but for my freshman year coming home for the first time was strange. I was no longest the same person who left two months before. The same thing happened after five months in Europe, people change. That is the point of college in the end, growing.

Going home is always a strange experience. The eight hour car ride is like a journey to another world. In a way it is relaxing but in a way there is always a sense of wonderment at the distinct world of home.

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School can be surprisingly busy, like this photo.

School can be surprisingly busy, like this photo.

Somewhere between High School and now weekends lost their appeal. During high school and even to some extent my freshman year weekends were this glorious time in which school was left aside and the days were thrown open to possibility.

That possibility is crushed now.

Weekends are now bastions of work and chores. Days lost to lab work and evenings devoured by applications.

Time lost to physics, time lost to school and time lost to keeping up.

The shift has been so gradual that I have not noticed till now. I suppose I started doing an hour or so at the beginning and now it has grown to become twelve hours of work every day of the week. A little respite at times of Thursday and Friday but always with the caveat in the back of the mind that there is more work to do.

It is really a challenge to just remain afloat.

Despite all of this, or maybe because of it, I enjoy it. I suppose if I was an accounting major I would not be happy but since I am doing physics it is worth it.

I guess I am trying to say that it is good to study what you love because towards the end it is all you have left.

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Nothing to see here, move along.

Nothing to see here, move along.

Fall quarter is a very sneak quarter.

The beginning is a fresh year, time to accomplish anything, finals a distant future.

A few weeks in a groove is found, it is known when homeworks are due and when to do them (most of the time the day before).

Then without out warning you are mired in a sea of midterms, one, two, three in the first week. Then that fourth class goes rogue assigns one in the week after that.

Maybe a week of respite or maybe a class has a misunderstanding of the word “midterm” and there is a second or third from the class.

By this time Halloween has gone and November is in full force. Climbing out of midterms and exams you look towards the future and see food.

Piles, mounds, gobs of delicious consumables. Thanksgiving holiday is coming. Rides home are arranged and life looks good. The short week before has some minimal homework but mostly it is about stretching before the big day.

Just one thing lies beneath of the surface of conciousness, a whisper in the dark that barely wakes you in the dark as you dream of pie mountains:

Dead week.

Right after Thanksgiving is Dead Week. Some believe it was named because there were no classes before finals or that work was limited. My theory on the origins of this name is that the week makes us envy the dead. 

Rest is gone and finals are here. Even more critically it is when all of the applications tend to be due: study abroad, summer internships, graduate school or research proposals.

Then it is over. It is done. With the beauty of the quarter system every obligation and class requirement is gone like the memories of October. Two, maybe three weeks of rest before Winter Quarter.

Winter Quarter is not a sneaky quarter.

It is just wet.

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